Do rude staff boost luxury retail sales? Yes, according to new study

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Photo credit: BBC's 'Are You Being Served' via WikipediaPhoto credit: BBC's 'Are You Being Served' via Wikipedia

Photo credit: BBC’s ‘Are You Being Served’ via Wikipedia

A new study finds that when it comes to luxury brands, rude sales staff are better for selling. This conclusion was drawn from research done by the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, at a time when Canada’s luxury retail market is growing substantially.

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Photo credit:

The study titled Should the Devil Sell Prada? Retail Rejection Increases Aspiring Consumers’ Desire for the Brand“, will appear in the October 2014 edition of the Journal of Consumer Research

In the study, participants imagined or had real interactions with sales representatives in luxury environments. Some representatives were rude, while some were not. Participants rated their feelings about associated brands and their desire to own them. Interestingly, participants who expressed an aspiration to be associated with high-end brands also reported an increased desire to own the luxury products after being treated poorly.

It should be noted that this effect only held true if the salesperson appeared to be an ‘authentic representative’ of the brand. If they did not fit that description, the consumer was turned off. Further, researchers found that sales staff rudeness did not heighten impressions of mass-market brands.

“It appears that snobbiness might actually be a qualification worth considering for luxury brands like Louis Vuitton or Gucci,” says Sauder Marketing professor Darren Dahl. “Our research indicates they can end up having a similar effect to an ‘in-group’ in high school that others aspire to join. Our study shows you’ve got to be the right kind of snob in the right kind of store for the effect to work,” says Dahl.

Photo credit: Bergdorf GoodmanPhoto credit: Bergdorf Goodman

Photo credit: Bergdorf Goodman

The forthcoming Journal of Consumer Research study reveals that consumers who get the brush-off at a high-end retailer can become more willing to purchase and wear its expensive luxury goods.

Research showed, however, that the improved impressions gained by the rude treatment faded over time. Customers who expressed an increased desire to purchase the products reported significantly diminished desires two weeks later.

Based on the study’s findings, Dahl suggests that, if salespersons are acting rudely, it’s best for the consumer to leave the situation and return later, or avoid the interactions altogether by shopping online.

The study is timely, as Canada sees an unprecedented increase in the availability of luxury brands. Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom are opening Canadian stores, while Holt Renfrew and Harry Rosen spruce up to remain competitive. Several of the world’s top luxury brands have also opened or intend to open Canadian stores, with more on the way. We’re unlikely to see sales staff be intentionally rude at Saks, Nordstrom, Holt Renfrew and Harry Rosen, given that these stores are multi-brand environments with reputations based on exceptional customer service. Smaller mono-brand luxury boutiques, on the other hand, could use the study’s findings to their advantage. 

The study was co-authored by Assistant Professor Morgan Ward of the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

Source: UBC News

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Article Author

Craig Patterson
Located in Toronto, Craig is the Editor-in-Chief of Retail Insider and President/CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. He is also a retail analyst and consultant, Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton, and consultant to the Retail Council of Canada. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for over 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees.

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  1. Sorry I don’t agree with this report, If your rude towards me with wanting to spend $160 for a shirt or $400 for some dress shoes. I’m leaving the store and contacting the company about the awful service and making it public.

    • We tend to agree with you, Kyle. Human nature is interesting, however. Some people make decisions and react to situations for incomprehensible reasons, much to the chagrin of some marketers. We agree with you on this however – we would never tolerate rude or snobby behaviour from retail staff, and encourage everyone to be the same. Canadian consumers deserve better.


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